Dedicated athlete completes a 100-mile bike ride 100 days after spine surgery

Mark Mildorf has always loved being active, doing things like running, hiking and cycling. But he began to be bothered by strange leg pain that came and went: he could easily hike a steep trail in the mountains of Peru one week, and the next week, he would have excruciating pain while walking across the grocery store parking lot. Mark consulted with Corey Wallach, MD, orthopedic surgeon and Medical Director of the spine program at Inova Alexandria Hospital and Inova Mount Vernon Hospital.

Mark Mildorf and Dr. Wallach

Mark had spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, which was compressing his spinal nerves and causing his symptoms. He also had arthritis in his spine that was beginning to make the spine itself curve, a condition called degenerative scoliosis. But despite these diagnoses, Dr. Wallach did not recommend surgery.

“I lay out the options and give my patients the information they need to make the best decision for them,” Dr. Wallach said. “I really do believe that the process is a partnership between my patients and me.”

Dr. Wallach and Mark used a variety of nonsurgical treatments, including conservative care and epidural steroid injections, to treat his symptoms initially. During this time, Mark completed a cycling milestone – his first 100-mile Century Ride – while his back continued to worsen.

When the pain was so bad that he thought twice about a simple trip to the coffee shop, Mark decided that the time for surgery had come.  There was only one problem – he was training for the Seagull Century, a storied 102-mile bike ride along Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Could he do both?

“One of the benefits of Inova’s spine program is that our spine expertise enables us to provide a thorough workup with appropriate diagnosis, so we can provide the right care and avoid unnecessary surgeries,” Dr. Wallach said.

Dr. Wallach recommended decompression, removing a portion of the narrowed vertebrae to give the nerves more room. He also recommended a two-level spinal fusion, which would turn three adjacent vertebrae in Mark’s lower back into one long, single bone with more stability.

Mark decided to have the recommended surgery, which took place at the Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. The surgery went smoothly, and Mark dedicated himself to the recovery process. After about a week, Mark was walking several miles a day without pain. Two months later, he received the all-clear from Dr. Wallach to start training.

“Before, during and after surgery, the whole Inova team was with me every step of the way,” Mark said. “Dr. Wallach and Inova did what was right for me.”

Following his renewed training and exactly 100 days after his surgery, Mark successfully completed the Seagull Century bike ride in Maryland.

“I have a picture in my office of Mark holding his bike over his head in triumph after completing the ride.” Dr. Wallach said. “It’s very rewarding to see what a positive effect we had on Mark’s life.”

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